Marine Surveyors Don’t Require Licensing

I would like to lodge a complaint against a marine surveyor, but I can’t figure out who to contact. The surveyor is a Coast Guard-licensed captain, but I have not been able to discuss the problem with the Coast Guard marine safety office. Is there a state agency that regulates marine surveyors in California?
Believe it or not, marine surveyors are not regulated by any government agency. There is no licensing requirement, and anyone with a voltmeter and a ball-peen hammer can hang up a sign tomorrow and call himself a surveyor. A surveyor who promotes himself as a licensed captain is simply using the license as a marketing tool, since the Coast Guard has no jurisdiction over his duties as a surveyor.

The lack of government oversight for the surveying profession can probably be traced to the wide range of services performed by surveyors, and the practical obstacles to the regulation of those services through one agency. Most boat owners will need a surveyor when they buy a boat, and for insurance renewal purposes. However, a surveyor may be called upon to survey large commercial vessels of every description. They also perform marine insurance investigations, including investigations for lost or stolen cargo from merchant ships, and they testify as expert witnesses in litigation.

A surveyor may also be asked to evaluate vessels operating under different regulatory environments, ranging from Coast Guard passenger safety regulations to construction requirements imposed by international vessel classification organizations or ’P&I Clubs,’ such as Lloyds of London. Merchant ships and large yachts are typically insured through these organizations, which employ their own surveyors to oversee construction and repair and perform periodic inspections throughout the world.

Even a small yacht survey may involve different construction methods and materials, complicated mechanical or electrical systems and different propulsion systems. A surveyor experienced in steel or aluminum workboats probably knows little or nothing about a modern racing sailboat. No surveyor is qualified to perform all these tasks, and no one regulatory agency would want to take on the task of licensing or oversight of such a varied profession.

Marine surveyors are therefore ’industry regulated.’ Their success or failure in the profession will depend upon the strength of their reputation in the eyes of the lenders, insurance companies, yacht brokers and lawyers who send business to them. As such, boat owners should always evaluate the source of a surveyor referral, and they may benefit by conducting their own research.

Many qualified yacht surveyors belong to either the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) or the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS). These trade groups will designate their members as ’certified’ (through NAMS), or ’accredited’ (through SAMS), and many boat owners mistakenly believe that these designations are a license of some sort.

Again, there is no government licensing for the industry, but the trade groups qualify their members as certified or accredited through an examination and interview procedure — and the groups both maintain a strict code of ethics for their members. This form of self-regulation by the trade groups may not be perfect, but the websites for these groups will provide a good starting place to look for a qualified and independent surveyor. NAMS can be found at and SAMS at

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